Descriptions of the body of deceased Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche provided by monks preparing his remains for cremation early Thursday have heightened suspicions surrounding the manner of his death, with some fearing the popular religious figure may have been poisoned, sources said.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 65, was cremated on July 16 by prison authorities in Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu against the wishes of relatives and supporters who had wanted the widely respected spiritual teacher’s body returned to his native county for traditional rites.
Word of the impending cremation was received only hours before the event, a relative living in India told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Thursday.
“On July 15, officials announced that Rinpoche’s body would be cremated next day at 7:00 a.m.,” Geshe Lobsang Yonten said, citing contacts in Chengdu.
“So 20 Tibetans, coming mainly from Rinpoche’s own monastery, came to view the body,” Yonten said, adding that all were thoroughly searched before entering the prison complex.
“They removed Rinpoche’s prison uniform and washed and cleaned his body, which was very lifelike in appearance,” he said.
“However, his nails and lips were black.”
After the group recited prayers until about 6:00 a.m., Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body was cremated in an “electric oven,” Yonten said.
Separately, a second exile source confirmed that a group of monks had been allowed to prepare Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body for cremation.
“About 17 lamas and monks were allowed inside the prison to handle the body and conduct ritual prayers,” Geshe Jamyang Nyima said, citing sources in the region.
“They changed his clothes and washed his body, and performed prayers in the prison till the early hours of dawn,” he said.
Though Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had been thin and in poor health when last seen by family members in 2013, his body showed signs of having recently gained weight, and he appeared to have been in better health before his sudden death, Yonten said.
“This raised suspicions among those present,” he said.
Saying that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had in fact been well, but had suddenly passed away, officials showed three family members closed-circuit footage showing the monk eating a meal in apparent good health, but then “appearing to be ill,” Yonten said.
A family member named Tendar then accused authorities of having killed him with food poisoning, he said.
“The officials warned him not to spread rumors of this kind, and then detained all three for about two hours,” he said.
Reports of torture
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in the 13th year of a life sentence imposed for what rights groups and supporters have described as a wrongful conviction on a bombing charge. He was widely popular among Tibetans for his efforts to protect Tibetan culture and the environment.
During his detention, “credible reports repeatedly emerged that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was being tortured and that he was in deteriorating health,” the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said on July 16.
“Known throughout the Tibetan community for his work from the late 1980s through the 1990s building schools, a monastery, and an orphanage, it appeared to have been his attempts to stop the clear-cutting of forests that especially irked local authorities,” ICT said.
Reported by Guru Choegyi, Kalden Lodoe, and Lobsang Choephel for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.